The Business of Movie Ward Theaters: Films or Food?
Not so long ago people went to the movies to, well, see the movie. Now it’s almost as if the movie has become secondary to the food and arcade games that most Ward Theaters have on offer. Montreal, as was the case in most cities, had its fair share of movie theaters – we didn’t call them cinemas, to us they were movie theaters, plain and simple – both in the downtown core and in the suburbs.
These were often elaborately designed single-screen Ward Theaters showing films every night and offered matinees on the weekends and during school holidays. I recall the price being 75 cents before seven o’clock at which time the cost of admission shot up to a whopping $1.25! For that princely sum movie patrons were treated to a cartoon – usually a Blake Edwards’Pink Panther short which worked well in Montreal as it could be used in both French and English theaters given the lack of dialogue – in addition to the main feature.
But the price is not the issue; the price of everything has gone up over time. What has changed is the focus from movie house to all round food and entertainment center. Not all that long ago your admission fee got you into the Ward Theaters to see the movie. There were, of course, snack bars where you could buy soft drinks, popcorn, candies and chips. But these were just for convenience because many people, perhaps most, brought their own snacks to the movie. I’m not talking about smuggling in contraband Twizzlers or Reese’s Pieces, sneaking past ushers who look like they want to pat down movie goers. The goodies people brought to the theater were most welcome; after all they had paid their admission. It was a movie theater, not a restaurant – it was a Bring Your Own Food establishment
Movie goers would bring in, openly and honestly, snack items such as a box of a dozen Dunkin’ Donuts and Dairy Queen milkshakes. Others brought submarine sandwiches or even hamburgers. Some folks even made special snacks at home and, along with a thermos of coffee settled in to enjoy the movie and munch on a ham on rye.
These days the film is almost an afterthought; once you get past the vast array of food on offer at exorbitant prices and run the gamut of the umpteen video games in the lobby, you can finally settle down to watch the feature.
The Movie business has changed. Long gone are the days when movie allen theaters were in the business of selling admission to films and providing convenience snack bar counters, but were BYOF!